How to Stop Worrying You'll "Break" Your Baby

New mom holding sleeping newborn

Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

Many people are surprised at how small and delicate their newborn is, making them worried that they (or another caregiver) will do something wrong that inadvertently hurts the baby. "Newborns" on TV are usually at least a few months old. Many people have never even seen a newborn, let alone held one, making them unfamiliar beings, to say the least.

Parents may worry that they will accidentally "break" or drop their baby. You might be concerned that your baby is too cold, too hot, too full, or not full enough, or sleeping too much or too little. Another worry is whether or not it's safe to take your baby outside or to let other people hold them.

"Bringing home a new baby is exciting and nerve-wracking all in one," says Rachael Van Klompenberg, mother of Jett, 10, and Mia, 4. She says that along with tremendous joy, she also felt a lot of worry and exhaustion as a new parent. "We all have great hopes for ourselves as parents, and how we will raise our kids, and we look forward to who they'll become and how they'll impact the world. And with that comes a lot of pressure to get everything right."

Learn how to keep your baby safe while letting go of any excess stress that doesn't serve you and might be taking away from your parenting experience.

Worrying About Your Baby Is Common

It's normal to worry about keeping your seemingly fragile newborn safe, not making any mistakes, or hurting them in any way. However, remember that perfection as a parent isn't possible and shouldn't be the goal, advises Wendy Hasson, MD, a pediatrician practicing in Portland, Oregon.

The key is to honor your feelings and concerns but not let them overwhelm you with worry, explains Karen Gail Lewis, EdD, MFT, MSW, a marriage and family therapist practicing in Washington, DC, and author of numerous self-help books. "Remember, if this is your first child, how can you possibly feel adequate? But your baby is going to be fine."

Why New Parents Worry

First off, know that it's normal and very common to worry about keeping your seemingly fragile newborn safe and to wonder if you are doing a good job as a parent. But also be aware that unchecked worries can lead to increased anxiety and potentially postpartum depression in both the person who had the baby and their partner.

"Although I had certain anxieties such as am I feeding her enough or is she getting sick, I was able to rationalize through them," says Bella Morrelli, mother of a 1-year-old daughter. "I would suggest listening to your baby because they will tell you exactly what they need."

Are Babies Fragile?

While newborns are small, vulnerable, and need attentive care, they are also hardier than they may seem. In fact, they have many reflexes (such as the startle and sucking reflexes), cues, and tools that help to protect them and help them get their needs met. The most important of which is crying, which will alert you when your baby needs something like a diaper change, food, or sleep. Their cry will also signal if they are upset, in distress, or in pain—or just feeling cranky.

"Babies are tougher than they appear and won’t 'break' with normal handling. While it’s important to support their head until they have the neck strength to hold it up on their own, their head won’t fall off if you forget. I promise! The biggest risks to your newborn are suffocation and infection," says Wendy Hasson, MD, a Portland, Oregon, pediatrician board certified in both general and critical care pediatrics. Still, it's important to provide head and neck support for your newborn.

How to Keep Your Baby Safe

As new parents, we all strive to protect and nurture our babies. However, too much worry isn't what your baby needs to thrive. Instead, focus on what you can do, and then aim to let the rest go.

Provide Responsive Care

Keeping your baby safe amounts to providing responsive care. This includes regular feedings, prompt diaper changes, following safe sleep guidelines (most importantly, putting babies to sleep on their backs in a safe space) to prevent suffocation and reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and tending to them when they cry.

A potential danger to your baby is not getting enough food, which can lead to dehydration and poor growth, says Emily Wolfe, MD, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Physician Associates in Florida.

"The pediatrician at the hospital will discuss with parents prior to discharge how much the baby should be feeding, how often, and how many wet diapers or stools to expect. This will also be reviewed again at the initial newborn visit at the pediatrician’s office by checking their weight and checking in with parents about their feeding," says Dr. Wolfe. If you ever have concerns about dehydration or feeding, contact your pediatrician for further guidance.

Baby-Proof and Follow Safe Sleep Guidelines

Watching out for dangers like potential choking or suffocation hazards is also important. Do not let your baby have access to small objects that could be swallowed. Also, remove any bedding or stuffed animals, or anything else from your child's crib (or other sleeping areas) that might limit your baby's ability to breathe. SIDS prevention also includes a safe sleep plan, including room-sharing but avoiding bed-sharing.

"Because the baby does not have any neck or head control, all babies are at risk of suffocation events," advises Dr. Hasson. Instead of blankets, babies can be swaddled or put in a sleep sack so that their face is exposed. "Babies should sleep alone on their back on a firm surface without any pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, or 'lovies,'" says the pediatrician.

Additionally, never shake them or move them forcefully, even if they are crying, cautions Dr. Wolfe. Shaking a baby can cause serious injury or even death.

Protect Against Infection

Basic hygiene like washing hands before you (and especially others) touch your baby will help prevent your baby from getting sick. You can also limit the number of people who come in contact with your little one by avoiding crowds and anyone who has an active infection. Breastfeeding your baby is another way to boost your baby's immune system to help them fight off any germs that they are exposed to.

Going outside is perfectly safe. "As soon as parents are feeling physically up to it, it’s great for both mom and baby to start going on walks outside," says Dr. Hasson. "Particularly in the winter months when respiratory viruses are circulating, it’s best to avoid taking the baby to crowded indoor places, if possible, for the first 2 months. If you need to take your baby to crowded places such as the grocery store, wearing your baby or using a lightweight stretchy stroller cover can be protective." 

Signs of infection in an infant include elevated or low temperature, the baby being too sleepy to feed, or a sudden change in behavior such as constant crying or no crying at all, explains Dr. Hasson. "It’s critical that the baby be evaluated in person for infection if these concerns arise because they can be extremely serious."

Keeping your baby safe starts while they are still in the womb. "Your healthcare team will recommend certain vaccines in pregnancy such as flu and COVID-19 vaccines as well as a pertussis booster. These protect your baby both during and after pregnancy," explains Dr. Hasson. Additionally, ask all caretakers to be current on their immunizations, including flu, COVID-19, and pertussis boosters.

Use Common Sense and Ask Your Doctor

Additionally, trust your instincts and use common sense when considering measures to keep your baby safe. You can also consult your pediatrician if you are wondering about the actual risks of what you are worried about, advises Dr. Hasson.

For example, while you want to protect your baby from hurting themselves, you want to balance this with letting them interact with the world around them. Case in point, says Dr. Hasson, "You don’t need to cover their hands with those little mittens. In fact, you should let them use their fingers to explore their environments."

You can also often find a middle ground. If you’re concerned about your baby scratching themselves, you can simply file their nails. The same goes for allowing people to handle your baby. "The first two months of baby's life are when they are most at risk for infection, so it is safest to limit how many people hold the baby." You can also consider asking visitors to wear a face mask, to limit the spread of germs.

Another common-sense approach is to make sure anyone who holds your baby washes their hands beforehand. Additionally, says Dr. Hasson, "While everyone wants to give the new baby kisses, it’s best to ask everyone to avoid kissing babies face, head, or hands." 

Tips for Letting These Fears Go

There are many, many things parents might worry about when it comes to protecting their baby. The key to letting these worries go is to evaluate the true risks, do what you can to mitigate them, and then try to move on.

Ultimately, Dr. Wolfe says, "Newborns are not as fragile as they appear." Sometimes, letting go of certain fears is easier said than done, but with concerted effort, you can get there.

Worrying You're Not Doing It Right

It's easy to feel intimidated as a new parent, especially if you don't have a lot of experience with babies. "The best thing you can do to help with your comfort level when handling a newborn is to practice and prepare prior to arrival and establish care with a pediatrician you trust for advice," recommends Dr. Wolfe. "Take care and be cautious when moving and handling your baby, but you will not hurt or break them with routine care."

Whisper affirmations to yourself when you feel your worries building up, suggests Lewis. "Say to yourself, 'It will be fine, mothers all over the world are learning how to do this for the first time, too.'" Tell yourself that you’re going to be a good mother, a good father. "Say this to yourself until you believe it."

Worrying About SIDS

When I was a new mom, I had a hard time going to sleep when my little girl finally slept. I was worried my baby might stop breathing in her sleep. I told my pediatrician of my fear. She nodded compassionately and then said, "I get it, but you obsessively watching her isn't going to do a thing. You'll be much more of a help to your baby if you can just sleep instead."

As hard as it was to let go of thinking that spying on my sleeping baby was keeping her safe, once I did so, it felt like a big relief. That helped me become more comfortable as a mother.

Dr. Hasson recommends the following strategies to feel confident in safely getting your baby to sleep in their own space, which can prevent an increased risk of SIDS:      

  • Assign your partner the job of watching you feed the baby and putting them back on their sleep surface after each feeding.
  • Avoid falling asleep with your baby in your bed.
  • Have a bassinette right next to the bed so that baby can be put down conveniently. 
  • If you’re alone, set an alarm on your phone to wake you up and remind you to put the baby back. 

Worrying About General Comfort, Health, and Safety

Worrying is fine from time to time, but try not to let it stop you from thinking about how your baby will likely be OK. "When worry would creep into my new mom brain at night, I would think about all the normal healthy kids I see running around and remind myself that the vast majority of babies grow up safe and healthy," recalls Dr. Hasson. "Odds are in your favor that your baby will, too!"

To quell your fears, give yourself time and grace as you remind yourself that millions of parents have done this all before, advises Lewis. "Worried about holding the baby? You will figure it out, just like all the mothers before you."

However, if something is worrying you about your baby or if you have questions about their ideal care, check in with your pediatrician for reassurance. "There is no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to a new baby," says Dr. Hasson.

Talk with your pediatrician about parenting resources they can share, suggests Dr. Wolfe. "For example, are there books, websites, or other sources of information that they recommend. Healthychildren.org is run by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is always a good resource to use if there are specific questions."

Additionally, when you reach out to loved ones for support and advice, says Lewis, "Ask someone who is not super anxious." Instead, seek out someone who exudes calm and experience so that you can model that type of reaction, too.

Worrying Other People or the Elements May Harm Your Baby

As your baby's parent, you have the right not to allow certain people to hold your little one. "If small children want to interact with the baby, one tip is to tell them the baby is off-limits for touching except petting the baby's feet," suggests Dr. Hasson.

Additionally, many parents over-bundle their babies out of fear they will be cold. "An easy rule of thumb is your baby should wear just one more layer than what you are wearing to feel comfortable. Being overheated is just as, if not more, worrisome than being a little cold."

You may also be worried about your baby's safety in a car. The best antidote to this concern, says Dr. Wolfe, is to be sure your baby is always buckled correctly to a rear-facing car seat when in the car.

Worrying Too Much

At a certain point, it's possible to be too worried about your baby.

"It’s normal to worry about your baby, but if the amount of worry you have interferes with your ability to bond with your new baby or to sleep, speak with your healthcare professional about diagnosing and managing postpartum anxiety or depression," says Dr. Hasson.

For many parents, participating in a new parent support group or asking for the insight of well-seasoned parent friends or family members can be helpful.

Remind yourself that a healthy full-term baby is pretty resilient and that you, as their parent, are a capable caregiver, advises Dr. Hasson.

A Word From Verywell

Many parents feel overwhelmed, worried, and stressed out during their adjustment to caring for a new baby. The key is to acknowledge these feelings and know that you're not alone in these fears, while also allowing yourself to let go of the worries that aren't helpful to you—or your baby.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vismara L, Rollè L, Agostini F, et al. Perinatal parenting stress, anxiety, and depression outcomes in first-time mothers and fathers: a 3- to 6-months postpartum follow-up studyFront Psychol. 2016;7:938. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00938

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Responding to your baby's cries. Updated April 21, 2021.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Is your baby hungry or full? Responsive feeding explained. Updated September 1, 2017.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Choking prevention. Updated September 30, 2019.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation. Updated January 12, 2019.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Abusive head trauma: how to protect your baby. Updated March 19, 2020.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding benefits your baby's immune system. Updated September 13, 2021.